DEAR DR. FOX: We have a 2-year-old male cat. This past winter, he had a severe reaction to his rabies vaccine.
Within a few hours of receiving the vaccine, he became lethargic and began vomiting blood. We took him to an emergency vet clinic, where he was given IV antibiotics and antihistamine overnight. As you can imagine, this was a scary and expensive event. We asked what could be done to prevent such a reoccurrence, and we were told to give him Benadryl the next time he gets his rabies vaccine.
Considering the severity of the reaction, we are concerned that just a dose of Benadryl will not be sufficient. He is an indoor-only cat who never even steps foot outside. While the possibility of contracting rabies seems to be nearly zero, the risk of serious consequences from the vaccine are already known to be 100 percent.
We know that the rabies vaccine is required, but can an exception be made in this case? If not, is there an alternative vaccine? We cannot go through the heartache or the expense again. -- K.C., O’Fallon, Missouri
DEAR K.C.: How very distressing for your poor cat, and for you.
I cannot advise you not to follow the law regarding regular anti-rabies vaccinations, but you need to find out what kind of vaccine was given. There are different kinds, some possibly safer than others. I do know that many people with always-indoor cats avoid giving them certain vaccinations, but this could be a problem if the cat needs to be boarded or taken to the vet for some health issue or regular check-up.
I have contacted Dr. W. Jean Dodds, a veterinarian who is an expert in this (and other) fields, who may have some insights to help you and your cat through this problem. She wrote:
“Sorry that this happened to your cat, but he should NOT receive any more rabies vaccines for his own safety -- which, in our view, with our Hippocratic Oath as veterinarians, supersedes local and state regulations where there is literally zero risk.
“Giving an antihistamine, like Benadryl, will not ameliorate this type of hypersensitivity reaction. The veterinarian who witnessed the reaction and/or the ER that treated him could give you a written exemption from future rabies boosters. As an indoor cat, he will not be exposed to rabies. So, you can just keep him indoors and don’t license him with your community.” -- W.J.D., DVM, Hemopet, Santa Monica, California
DEAR DR. FOX: Our 8-month-old shiba inu female occasionally trembles.
The first time she did this, at 6 months, we thought she might have eaten a plant leaf, so we rushed her to the vet. She was put on meds, as well as a controlled diet. The trembling stopped after 12 hours. In three days, it appeared the meds were a problem, so the vet ended them.
Since that time, she seems to have fits of trembling lasting from 15 minutes to an hour, occurring at random times of the day, about twice a month for the past two months. During that time, she pants and seeks comfort; particularly afterward, she wants to be held.
Checking online, we see that this is a common ailment for shiba inus and wonder if a cause and possible cure have been established. Our vet has not been able to uncover any relevant information. We have never owned this breed before and have no point of reference.
It is hard to watch her tremble without being able to help. I do give her yogurt following an episode. Although we monitor her diet with a grain she likes, yogurt seemed to be the only thing that was useful when we thought the reason for the trembling might be plant poisoning.
Do you know what causes this, and do you have any recommendations as to how we can control it? -- L.H., Belmar, New Jersey
DEAR L.H.: I am sorry to hear about your dog’s distressing neurological condition, but there is a possible treatment -- even though the exact cause (and therefore prevention) have not yet been determined.
Your dog probably fits the condition of full-body tremors called “shaker dog syndrome,” also known as “white dog shaker syndrome” and “idiopathic steroid responsive shaker syndrome.”
This is most often seen in small dog breeds and is also seen in cats. It is most common in West Highland white terriers, Maltese, Bichons and poodles. The disease has a sudden onset at 1 to 2 years of age, and is worsened by stress. Symptoms can include nystagmus (eyes moving rapidly from side to side), difficulty walking and seizures. It must be distinguished from other conditions that can cause neurological problems, especially low blood sugar in small breeds.
The cause is unknown, but it may be immune system-related. Treatment with corticosteroids (prednisolone) may help, and a low dose of Valium may help alleviate anxiety and associated neuromuscular tension. Also ask your vet about trying a prescription for gabapentin.
With treatment, symptoms usually resolve within a week, although lifelong treatment may be necessary. Avoid getting your dog into over-stimulating situations until the medication improves things.
AIRLINE UPDATES PET TRANSPORT POLICY
United Airlines will resume accepting dogs and cats for transport as cargo, but will not accept some snub-nosed and strong-jawed breeds and will not transport any animals through airports in Las Vegas; Palm Springs, California; Phoenix; or Tucson, Arizona, from May to September. (Chicago Tribune, May 1)
In my opinion, all airlines should adopt these policies, especially with “snub-nosed” (brachycephalic) dogs and cats who are very much at risk -- especially when transit-associated fear triggers hyperventilation. This could cause swelling of the tissues in the throat and death by suffocation.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)